Tensions ran high this week after Gabor Vona, leader of far-right Hungarian political party Jobbik, came to the UK to speak at a central London rally. Despite 14,000 signatures being added to a petition to Theresa May calling for Vona to be banned, the leader of Hungary’s third-party was eventually permitted to speak. In a letter to May London Assembly member and former Labour MP Andrew Dismore wrote, “I think it’s very important to send the message that we won’t have hatred spread on our streets”, and as I wrote for Shifting Grounds earlier in the week, I believe we should not have allowed him to come.
Jobbik’s visit to the UK was designed to woo the 50,000 Hungarians currently living here. With elections approaching, Vona – whose party have 43 seats in the parliament there – is looking to win the absentee votes of Hungarian ex-pats. Jobbik’s policies are highly controversial, echoing the language and rhetoric of Fascist movements in the 1930s and 1940s. Travellers and Jewish people come under particular attack: “The integration of gypsies has failed. In most cases, segregation would be the most effective way of educating these people,” Vona is on record as saying.
In the end Vona’s speech, which had been scheduled to be held in Holborn on Sunday, had to be relocated after Unite Against Fascism (UAF) gathered there and prevented his supporters from leaving the station. UAF’s Sabby Dhalu said Jobbik’s views “had no place in a modern society”, adding that “Wherever fascists have a presence, racist, antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks increase”. Vona eventually managed to find a platform in Hyde Park, where he spoke for around an hour, addressing the crowd in his native Hungarian.
It is easy to associate Jobbik with a strain of Fascistic Eastern European politics which has no equivalent here in the UK. The BNP, after all, is a faded force which has never won a single parliamentary seat, let alone 43, and the EDL appear to have lost support. Yet we must not be complacent. The widespread scaremongering over Christmas about a Roma ‘invasion’ is just one illustration of how, in straitened times, dangerous myths can gain traction. With the issue of Europe acting as a lightening rod, those who oppose the EU and want a more insular Britain often play into people’s worst fears.
Vona himself eschews the traditional left-right perspective on politics, saying “The true division is between those who want globalisation and those who do not”. Just as UKIP are seeking electoral success off the back of an unholy coalition of white collar Eurosceptic Tories and blue collar voters worried about immigration, Jobbik have garnered their support from both ends of the political spectrum.
This is not to compare UKIP with Jobbik – although it is worth noting the number of UKIP representatives who have flirted with right-wing politics – but rather to point out the danger of allowing populist narratives to take hold. In a European Election year those of us on the left must engage with voters who feel alienated by globalisation, and make a positive case for why Britain does better by working with its neighbours.
Earlier this week, meanwhile, the trial of footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema began in France. The two players, who are accused of having sex with an Algerian-born prostitute while she was under 18, face prison sentences if found guilty. In a week where my prostitution report (which recommends the Swedish Model) went through the parliament, the Ribery-Benzema case illustrates the need for a change in how we tackle prostitution. The sad fact is that, had the woman in question been a year or so older, it would have been perfectly legal for two multimillionaire footballers in their late twenties to buy her body for sex.